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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Circumcision Ban Compromise: Snip Only Some of the Foreskin!

Posted By on Tue, Jul 5, 2011 at 3:05 PM

click to enlarge A third way?
  • A third way?

The topic of babies' foreskins has been oddly prominent in our city's political and legal discourse as of late. With a ballot initiative that would ban circumcision going before San Francisco voters this fall, various legal authorities, religious groups, and comic-book illustrators have joined the fray over whether this ancient rite should be made illegal.

It's been a feverish and often bizarre debate, with accusations of barbarity and anti-Semitism flying back and forth. Thus we were interested to come across a thoughtful and temperate suggestion on how to settle the circumcision feud from Jay Michaelson in the Jewish Daily Forward. His idea? It's simple: Split the difference. Like, literally.

That's right: Michaelson suggests snipping off just the outermost extension of the foreskin, leaving portions over the head and shaft of the penis intact. It might sound outlandish, but he manages to back up this idea through some serious scholarship. Rabbis have historically divided the act of circumcision into two phases -- milah and periah. It is only during the latter phase, which literally means "tearing," that most of the foreskin is removed.

As Michaelson notes:

There is no evidence that biblical circumcision included periah, which renders it a rabbinic addition to the biblical rule rather than the core of the mitzvah itself. A circumcision without periah leaves intact most of the genital organ's sensitive areas. It fulfills the biblical commandment without the long-term and essentially irrevocable damage to an infant boy's body.

Who knows? If San Franciscans pay attention to Michaelson's solution, we might yet have a chance to vote on a second, um, scaled-back circumcision measure in the near future.

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Peter Jamison

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